ZURICH (Reuters) - The United States, Canada and Mexico's hopes of hosting the 2026 World Cup were handed a significant boost when European countries were effectively ruled out of bidding by FIFA on Friday.
The FIFA Council also confirmed that co-hosting would be allowed and said there would be no restriction on the number of countries in a given bid.
Discussions on whether to increase the number of teams from 32 to 40 or even 48 teams, plus the tournament format, will continue with a final decision on Jan. 9 or 10.
The deadline for bids for the 2026 World Cup to be submitted is December 2018 with a final decision due in May 2020.
The FIFA Council agreed to the "general principle that member associations from confederations of the last two hosts of the FIFA World Cup will be ineligible to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup," FIFA said.
As Russia and Qatar will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively, the decision means that neither European nor Asian countries will be eligible for 2026.
However, world soccer's ruling body said that European, but not Asian, bids could be authorised "in the event that none of the received bids fulfil the strict technical and financial requirements".
"It limits the numbers of confederations that are bidding," Sunil Gulati, president of the United States Football Federation, told reporters.
"We will look at it, we have got great relationships with Canada and Mexico, we also have a country with 320 million people that has hosted a World Cup with a lot of terrific stadiums and great infrastructure."
He said, however, that the U.S. still needed to know more about the bidding process.
"We won't make a decision until hosting until we know what the rules are," he said
"We now know some of those rules, about the eligibility, we don't know the size of the tournament and until we see those and there is a lot of clarity....in the process, then we'll make a decision about it."
The U.S. hosted the 1994 World Cup and made an unsuccessful bid for the 2022 tournament. Mexico hosted the 1970 and 1986 World Cups. The only World Cup to have been co-hosted was in 2002 when Japan and South Korea shared it.
CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani said a three-way bid had never been "off the table" although discussions would have to continue.
"Those discussions will be happen, in our confederation you have got three strong candidates who can do it on their own and we'll see what the future holds," he said.
One FIFA Council member said there was a "certain resistance" to a 48-team World Cup although nothing had been ruled out.
David Gill, another FIFA Council member, said keeping the 32-team format, which is popular with the public, coaches and players, was still a possibility.
"There may be an increase in the number of teams, with the emphasis on may," he said.
FIFA was forced to reform its bidding process after the award for the 2018 and 2022, made at a single vote in December 2010.
That vote is the subject of a criminal investigation by Swiss authorities while Qatar's preparations have also been marred by allegations of abuse of migrant workers in the construction industry.
Qatar says it is working to solve the issue.
Editing by Ed Osmond